aspnet, net, autofac, github comments edit

Alex and I are working on switching Autofac over to ASP.NET vNext and as part of that we’re trying to figure out what the proper structure is for a codeline, how a build should look, and so on.

There is a surprisingly small amount of documentation on the infrastructure bits. I get that things are moving quickly but the amazing lack of docs of any detail creates for a steep learning curve and a lot of frustration. I mean, you can read about the schema for project.json but even that is out of date/incomplete so you end up diving into the code, trying to reverse-engineer how things come together.

Below is a sort of almost-stream-of-consciousness braindump of things I’ve found while working on sorting out build and repo structure for Autofac.

##No More MSBuild - Sake + KoreBuild

If you’re compiling only on a Windows platform you can still use MSBuild, but if you look at the ASP.NET vNext repos, you’ll see there’s no MSBuild to be found.

This is presumably to support cross-platform compilation of the ASP.NET libraries and the K runtime bits. That’s a good goal and it’s worth pursuing - we’re going that direction for at least core Autofac and a few of the other core libs that need to change (like Autofac.Configuration). Eventually I can see all of our stuff switching that way.

The way it generally works in this system is:

  • A base build.cmd (for Windows) and (for Linux) use NuGet to download the Sake and KoreBuild packages.
  • The scripts kick off the Sake build engine to run a makefile.shade which is platform-agnostic.
  • The Sake build engine, which is written in cross-platform .NET, handles the build execution process.

###The Sake Build System Sake is a C#-based make/build system that appears to have been around for quite some time. There is pretty much zero documentation on this, which makes figuring it out fairly painful.

From what I gather, it is based on the Spark view engine and uses .shade view files as the build scripts. When you bring in the Sake package, you get several shared .shade files that get included to handle common build tasks like updating assembly version information or running commands.

It enables cross-platform builds because Spark, C#, and the overall execution process works both on Mono and Windows .NET.

One of the nice things it has built in, and a compelling reason to use it beyond the cross-platform support, is that a convention-based standard build lifecycle that runs clean/build/test/package targets in a standard order. You can easily hook into this pipeline to add functionality but you don’t have to think about the order of things. It’s pretty nice.

###The KoreBuild Package KoreBuild is a build system layered on top of Sake that is used to build K projects. As with Sake, there is zero doc on this.

If you’re using the new K build system, though, and you’re OK with adopting Sake, there’s a lot of value in the KoreBuild package. KoreBuild layers in Sake support for automatic NuGet package restore, native compile support, and other K-specific goodness. The _k-standard-goals.shade file is where you can see the primary set of things it adds.

###The Simplest Build Script Assuming you have committed to the Sake and KoreBuild way of doing things, you can get away with an amazingly simple top-level build script that will run a standard clean/build/test/package lifecycle automatically for you.

var AUTHORS='Your Authors Here'


At the time of this writing, the AUTHORS value must be present or some of the standard lifecycle bits will fail… but since the real authors for your package are specified in project.json files now, this really just is a placeholder that has to be there. It doesn’t appear to matter what the value is.

##Embedded Resources Have Changed

There is currently no mention of how embedded resources are handled in the documentation on project.json but if you look at the schema you’ll see that you can specify a resources element in project.json the same way you can specify code.

A project with embedded resources might look like this (minus the frameworks element and all the dependencies and such to make it easier to see):

    "description": "Enables Autofac dependencies to be registered via configuration.",
    "authors": ["Autofac Contributors"],
    "version": "4.0.0-*",
    "compilationOptions": {
        "warningsAsErrors": true
    "code": ["**\\*.cs"],
    "resources": "**\\*.resx"
    /* Other stuff... */

###Manifest Resource Path Changes If you include .resx files as resources, they correctly get converted to .resources files without doing anything. However, if you have other resources, like an embedded XML file…

    "code": ["**\\*.cs"],
    "resources": ["**\\*.resx", "Files\\*.xml"]

…then you get an odd generated path. Easiest to see with an example. Say you have this:


In old Visual Studio/MSBuild, the file would be embedded and the internal manifest resource stream path would be MyAssembly.Files.Embedded.xml - the folders would represent namespaces and path separators would basically become dots.

However, in the new world, you get a manifest resource path Files/Embedded.xml - literally the relative path to the file being embedded. If you have unit tests or other stuff where embedded files are being read, this will throw you for a loop.

###No .resx to .Designer.cs A nice thing about the resource system in VS/MSBuild was the custom tool that would run to convert .resx files into strongly-typed resources in .Designer.cs files. There’s no automatic support for this anymore.

However, if you give in to the KoreBuild way of things, they do package an analogous tool inside KoreBuild that you can run as part of your command-line build script. It won’t pick up changes if you add resources to the file in VS, but it’ll get you by.

To get .resx building strongly-typed resources, add it into your build script like this:

var AUTHORS='Your Authors Here'


#generate-resx .resx description='Converts .resx files to .Designer.cs' target='initialize'

What that does is add a generate-resx build target to your build script that runs during the initialize phase of the standard lifecycle. The generate-resx target dependes on a target called resx which does the actual conversion to .Designer.cs files. The resx target comes from KoreBuild and is included when you include the k-standard-goals script, but it doesn’t run by default, which is why you have to include it yourself.

Gotcha: The way it’s currently written, your .resx files must be in the root of your project (it doesn’t use the resources value from project.json). They will generate the .Designer.cs files into the Properties folder of your project. This isn’t configurable.

##ASP.NET Repo Structure is Path of Least Resistance If you give over to Sake and KoreBuild, it’s probably good to also give over to the source repository structure used in the ASP.NET vNext repositories. Particularly in KoreBuild there are some hardcoded assumptions in certain tasks that you’re using that repo structure.

The structure looks like this:


The key important bits there are:

  • Project source is in the src folder.
  • Tests for the project are in the test folder.
  • There’s a top-level solution file (if you’re using Visual Studio).
  • The global.json points to the src file as the place for project source.
  • There are build.cmd and scripts to kick off the cross-platform builds.
  • The top-level makefile.shade handles build orchestration.
  • The folder names for the source and test projects are the names of the assemblies they generate.
  • Each assembly has…
    • Properties with AssemblyInfo.cs where the AssemblyInfo.cs doesn’t include any versioning information, just other metadata.
    • A .kproj file (if you’re using Visual Studio) that is named after the assembly being generated.
    • A project.json that spells out the authors, version, dependencies, and other metadata about the assembly being generated.

Again, a lot of assumptions seem to be built in that you’re using that structure. You can save a lot of headaches by switching.

I can see this may cause some long-path problems. Particularly if you are checking out code into a deep file folder and have a long assembly name, you could have trouble. Think…


That’s 152 characters right there. Add in those crazy WCF-generated .datasource files and things are going to start exploding.

##Assembly/Package Versioning in project.json Part of what you put in project.json is your project/package version:

    "authors": ["Autofac Contributors"],
    "version": "4.0.0-*",
    /* Other stuff... */

There desn’t appear to be a way to keep multiple assemblies in a solution consistently versioned. That is, you can’t put the version info in the global.json at the top level and I’m not sure where else you could store it. You could probably come up with a custom build task to handle centralized versioning, but it’d be nice if there was something built in for it.

##XML Doc Compilation Warnings The old compiler csc.exe had a thing where it would automatically output compiler warnings for XML documentation errors (syntax or reference errors). The K compiler apparently doesn’t do this by default so they added custom support for it in the KoreBuild package.

To get XML documentation compilation warnings output in your build, add it into your build script like this:

var AUTHORS='Your Authors Here'


#xml-docs-test .clean .build-compile description='Check generated XML documentation files for errors' target='test'

That adds a new xml-docs-test target that runs during the test part of the lifecycle (after compile). It requires the project to have been cleaned and built before running. When it runs, it calls the k-xml-docs-test target to manually write out XML doc compilation warnings.

##Runtime Update Gotchas Most build.cmd or build scripts have a line like this:

CALL packages\KoreBuild\build\kvm upgrade -runtime CLR -x86
CALL packages\KoreBuild\build\kvm install default -runtime CoreCLR -x86


  • Get the latest K runtime from the feed.
  • Set the latest K runtime as the ‘default’ one to use.

While I think this is fine early on, I can see a couple of gotchas with this approach.

  • Setting the ‘default’ modifies the user profile. When you call kvm install default the intent is to set the aliast default to refer to the specified K runtime version (in the above example, that’s the latest version). When you set this alias, it modifies a file attached to the user profile containing the list of aliases - it’s a global change. What happens if you have a build server environment where lots of builds are running in parallel? You’re going to get the build processes changing aliases out from under each other.
  • How does backward compatibility work? At this early stage, I do want the latest runtime to be what I build against. Later, though, I’m guessing I want to pin a revision of the runtime in my build script and always build against that to ensure I’m compatible with applications stuck at that runtime version. I guess that’s OK, but is there going to be a need for some sort of… “binding redirect” (?) for runtime versions? Do I need to specify some sort of “list of supported runtime versions?”

##Testing Means XUnit and aspnet50 At least at this early stage, XUnit seems to be the only game in town for unit testing. The KoreBuild stuff even has XUnit support built right in, so, again, path of least resistance is to switch if you’re not already on it.

I did find a gotcha, though, where if you want k test to work your assemblies must target aspnet50.

Which is to say… in your unit test project.json you’ll have a line to specify the test runner command:

    "commands": {
        "test": "xunit.runner.kre"
    "frameworks": {
        "aspnet50": { }

Specifying that will allow you to drop to a command prompt inside the unit test assembly’s folder and run k test to execute the unit tests.

In early work for Autofac.Configuration I was trying to get this to work with the Autofac.Configuration assembly only targeting aspnetcore50 and the unit test assembly targeting aspnetcore50. When I ran k test I got a bunch of exceptions (which I didn’t keep track of, sorry). After a lot of trial and error, I found that if both my assembly under test (Autofac.Configuration) and my unit test assembly (Autofac.Configuration.Test) both targeted aspnet50 then everything would run perfectly.

##PCL Support is In Progress

It’d be nice if there was a portable class library profile that just handled everything rather than all of these different profiles + aspnet50 + aspnetcore50. There’s not. I gather from Twitter conversations that this may be in the works but I’m not holding my breath.

Also, there’s a gotcha with Xamarin tools: If you’re using a profile (like Profile259) that targets a common subset of a lot of runtimes including mobile platforms, then the output of your project will change based on whether or not you have Xamarin tools installed. For example, without Xamarin installed you might get .nupkg output for portable-net45+win+wpa81+wp80. However, with Xamarin installed that same project will output for portable-net45+win+wpa81+wp80+monotouch+monoandroid.

##Configuration Changes Obviously with the break from System.Web and some of the monolithic framework, you don’t really have web.config as such anymore. Instead, the configuration system has become Microsoft.Framework.ConfigurationModel.

It’s a pretty nice and flexible abstraction layer that lets you specify configuration in XML, JSON, INI, or environment variable format. You can see some examples here.

That said, it’s a huge change and takes a lot to migrate.

  • No appSettings. I’m fine with this because appSettings always ended up being a dumping ground, but it means everything you have originally tied to appSettings needs to change.
  • No ConfigurationElement objects. I can’t tell you how much I have written in the old ConfigurationElement mechanism. It had validation, strong type parsing, serialization, the whole bit. All of that will not work in this new system. You can imagine how this affects things like Autofac.Configuration.
  • List and collection support is nonexistent. I’ve actually filed a GitHub issue about this. A lot of the configuration I have in both Autofac.Configuration and elsewhere is a list of elements that are parameterized. The current XML and JSON parsers for config specifically disallow list/collection support. Everything must be a unique key in a tree-like hierarchy. That sort of renders the new config system, at least for me, pretty much unusable except for the most trivial of things. Hopefully this changes.
  • Everything is file or in-memory. There’s no current support for pulling in XML or JSON configuration that comes from, say, a REST API call from a centralized repository. Even in unit testing, all the bits that actually run the configuration parsing on a stream of XML/JSON are internals rather than exposed - you have to load config from a file or manually create it yourself in memory by adding key/value pairs. There’s a GitHub issue open for this, too.

As a workaround, I’m considering using custom object serialization and bypassing the new configuration system altogether. I like the flexibility of the new system but the limitations are pretty overwhelming right now.

android comments edit

A couple of years back I bought some Samsung TecTiles for use with my Galaxy S3. I created a tag that would easily switch my phone to vibrate mode at work - get to work, scan it, magic.

Within the last couple of weeks I upgraded to a Galaxy Note 4 and when I tried to use the Note 4 on my TecTile I got a message saying the tag type wasn’t supported.

A little research revealed that the TecTiles I bought are “MIFARE Classic” format, which are apparently not universally compatible. So… crap. If I want to mess around with NFC, I’m going to need to get some different tags. These TecTiles can’t be read by any device I have in my home anymore.

android comments edit

My phone is a Samsung Galaxy S3 on Verizon.

If you already know about running custom ROMs and customizing your Android phone, you’re probably laughing right now. Not knowing any better, I took all the standard over-the-air (“OTA”) updates all the way through current Android 4.4.2, figuring when the time came I could follow whatever the latest rooting process is and update to something like Cyanogenmod. Oh, how wrong I was.

The problem mostly was in the things I didn’t understand, or thought I understood, with the whole process of putting a custom ROM on the phone. There is so much information out there, but there isn’t a guide that both tells you how to do the upgrade and what it is you’re actually doing, that is, why each step is required.

I learned so much in failing to flash my phone. I failed miserably, getting the phone into a state where it would mostly boot up, but would sometimes fail with some security warning (“soft-bricking” the phone; fully “bricked” would imply I couldn’t do anything with it at all).

So given all that, I figured rather than write a guide to how to put a custom ROM on your phone, I’d just write up all the stuff I learned so maybe folks trying this themselves will understand more about what’s going on.

Disclaimers, disclaimers: I’m a Windows guy, though I have some limited Linux experience. Things that might be obvious to Linux folks may not be obvious to me. I also may not have the 100% right description at a technical level for things, but this outlines how I understand it. My blog is on GitHub - if you want to correct something, feel free to submit a pull request.


An “OS image” that you want to install on your phone is a ROM. I knew this going in, but just to level-set, you should know the terminology. A ROM generally contains a full default setup for a version of Android, and there are a lot of them. The ones you get from your carrier are “stock” or “OTA” ROMs. Other places, like Cyanogenmod, build different configurations of Android and let you install their version.

ROMs generally include software to run your phone’s modem. At least, the “stock” ROMs do. This software tells the phone how to connect to the carrier network, how to connect to wireless, etc. I don’t actually know if custom ROMs also include modem software, but I’m guessing not since these seem to be carrier-specific.

You need “root” access on your phone to do any low-level administrative actions. You’ll hear this referred to as “rooting” the phone. (“root” is the name of the superuser account in Linux, like “administrator” in Windows.) Carriers lock their stock ROMs down so software can’t do malicious things… and so you can’t uninstall the crapware they put on your phone. The current favorite I’ve seen is Towelroot.

With every update to the stock ROM, carriers try to “plug the holes” that allow you to get root access. Sometimes they also remove root access you might already have.

You need this root access so you can install a custom “recovery mode” on your phone. (I’ll get to what “recovery” is in a minute.)

When you turn on your phone or reboot, a “bootloader” is responsible for starting up the Android OS. This is a common thing in computer operating systems. Maybe you’ve seen computers that “dual boot” two different operating systems; or maybe you’ve used a special menu to go into “safe mode” during startup. The bootloader is what allows that to happen.

In Android, the bootloader lets you do basically one of three things:

  • Boot into the Android OS installed.
  • Boot into “recovery mode,” which allows you to do some maintenance functions.
  • Boot into “download mode,” which allows you to connect your phone to your computer to do special software installations.

You don’t ever actually “see” the bootloader. It’s just software behind the scenes making decisions about what to do when the power button gets pushed.

Recovery mode on your phone provides access to maintenance functions. If you really get into a bind, you may want to reset your phone to factory defaults. Or you may need to clear some cached data the system has that’s causing incorrect behavior. The “recovery mode” menu on the phone allows you to do these things. This is possible because it’s all happening before the Android OS starts up.

What’s interesting is that people have created “custom recovery modes” that you can install on the phone that give the phone different/better options here. This is the gateway for changing the ROM on your phone or making backups of your current ROM.

Download mode on your phone lets you connect the phone to a computer to do custom software installations. The complement to recovery mode is download mode. This allows you to connect the phone to a computer with a USB cable and push a ROM from the computer over to the phone.

Odin is software for Samsung devices that uses download mode to flash a ROM onto a device. When you go into download mode on the phone, something has to be running on your computer to push the software to the phone. For Samsung devices, this software is called “Odin.” I can’t really find an “official” download for Odin, which is sort of scary and kind of sucks. (You can apparently also use software called Heimdall, but I didn’t try that.)

#The Process (And Where I Failed)

Now that you know the terminology, understanding what’s going on when you’re putting a custom ROM on the phone should make a bit more sense. It should also help you figure out better what’s gone wrong (should something go wrong) so you know where to look to fix it.

First you need to root the phone. You’ll need the administrative access so you can install some software that will work at a superuser level to update the recovery mode on your phone.

Rooting the phone for me was pretty easy. Towelroot did the trick with one button click.

Next you need to install a custom recovery mode. A very popular one is ClockworkMod ROM Manager. You can get this from the Google Play store or from their site. It is sad how lacking the documentation is. There’s nothing on their web site but download links; and other “how to use” guides are buried in forums.

If you do use ClockworkMod ROM Manager, though, there’s a button inside the app that lets you flash the ClockworkMod Recovery Mode. Doing this will update the recovery mode menu and start letting you use options that ClockworkMod provides, like installing a custom ROM image or backing up your current ROM.

THIS IS WHERE THINGS WENT WRONG FOR ME. Remember how you get into the recovery mode by going through the bootloader? Verizon has very annoyingly locked down the bootloader on the Galaxy S3 on more recent stock ROM images such that it detects if you’ve got a custom recovery mode installed. If you do, you get a nasty warning message telling you that some unrecognized software is installed and you have to go to Verizon to fix it.

Basically, by installing ClockworkMod Recovery, I had soft-bricked my phone. Everything looked like it was going to work… but it didn’t.

This is apparently a fairly recent thing with later OTA updates from Verizon. Had I not taken the updates, I could have done this process. But… I took the updates, figuring someone would have figured out a way around it by the time I was interested in going the custom ROM route, and I was wrong.

If the custom recovery works for your phone then switching to a custom ROM would be a matter of using the custom recovery menu to select a ROM and just “switch” to it. The recovery software would take care of things for you. ROMs are all over for the download, like right off the Cyanogenmod site. Throw the ROM on your SD card, boot into recovery, choose the ROM, and hang tight. You’re set.

If the custom recovery doesn’t work for your phone then you’re in my world and it’s time to figure out what to do.

The way to un-soft-brick my phone was to manually restore the stock ROM. Again, there are really no official download links for this stuff, so it was a matter of searching and using (what appeared to be) reputable places to get the software.

  • Install the Odin software on your computer.
  • Boot the phone into “download mode” so it’s ready to get the software.
  • Connect the phone to the computer.
  • Tell the phone to start downloading.
  • In Odin, select the stock ROM in “AP” or “Phone” mode. (You can’t downgrade - I tried that. The best I could do was reinstall the same thing I had before.)
  • Hit the Odin “Start” button and be scared for about 10 minutes while it goes about its work and reboots.

After re-flashing the stock ROM, I was able to reboot without any security warnings. Of course, I had to reinstall all of my apps, re-customize my home screens, and all that…

…But I was back to normal. Almost.

My current problem is that I’m having trouble connecting to my wireless network. It sees the network, it says it’s getting an IP address, but it gets hung on this part “determining the quality of your internet connection.” This is a new problem that I didn’t have before.

It seems to be a fairly common problem with no great solution. Some people fix it by rebooting their wireless router (didn’t fix it for me). Some people fix it by telling the phone to “forget” the network and then manually reconnecting to it (didn’t fix it for me).

My current attempt at solving it involves re-flashing the modem software on the phone. Remember how I mentioned that the stock ROM comes with modem software in it? You can also get the modem software separately and use Odin to flash just the modem on the phone. Some folks say this solves it. I did the Odin part just this morning and while I’m connected to wireless now, the real trouble is after a phone restart. I’ll keep watch on it.

Hopefully this helps you in your Android modding travels. I learned a lot, but knowing how the pieces work together would have helped me panic a lot less when things went south and would have helped me know what to look for when fixing things.

media, music, movies, hardware, home, synology comments edit

UPDATE 7/8/2015 - All current documentation for my media center and home network is at

Way back in 2008 I put up an overview of my media server solution based on the various requirements I had at the time - what I wanted out of it, what I wasn’t so interested in.

I’ve tried to keep that up to date somewhat, but I figured it was time to provide a nice, clean update with everything I’ve got set up thus far and a little info on where I’m planning on taking it. Some of my requirements have changed, some of the ideas about what I want out of it have changed.


  • Access to my DVD collection: I want to be able to get to all of the movies and TV shows in my collection. I am not terribly concerned with keeping the menus or extra features, but I do want the full audio track and video without noticeably reduced fidelity.
  • Family acceptance factor: I want my wife and daughter to be able to navigate through the system and find what they want to watch with minimal effort.
  • Access to my pictures: I want to be able to see my family photos from a place outside my office where the computers generally sit.
  • Access to my music: I want to be able to listen to my music collection from any room in the house.
  • As compatible as possible: When choosing formats, software, communication protocols, etc., I want it to be compatible with as many devices I own as possible. I have an Android phone, an iPod classic, an iPad, Windows machines, a PS4, an Xbox 360, a Kindle Fire, and a Google Chromecast.


My hardware footprint has changed a bit since I started, but I’m in a pretty comfortable spot with my current setup and I think it has a good way forward.

  • Synology DS1010+: I use the Synology DS1010+ for my movie storage and as the Plex server (more on Plex in the software section). The 1010+ is an earlier version of the Synology DS1513+ and is amazingly flexible and extensible.
  • HP EX475 MediaSmart Server: This little machine was my first home server and was originally going to be my full end-to-end solution. Right now it serves as picture and audio storage as well as the audio server.
  • Playstation 3: My main TV has an Xbox 360, a PS3, and a small home theater PC attached to it… but I primarily use the PS3 for the front end for all of this stuff. The Xbox 360 may become the primary item once the Plex app is released for it. The PC was primary for a while but it’s pretty underpowered and cumbersome to turn on, put to sleep, etc.
  • Google Chromecast: Upstairs I have the Chromecast and an Xbox 360 on it. The Chromecast does pretty well as the movie front end. I sort of switch between this and the 360, but I find I spend more time with the Chromecast when it comes to media.


I use a fairly sizable combination of software to manage my media collection, organize the files, and convert things into compatible formats.

  • Picasa: I use Picasa to manage my photos. I mostly like it, though I’ve had some challenges as I have moved it from machine to machine over the years in keeping all of the photo album metadata and the ties to the albums synchronized online. Even with these challenges, it is the one tool I’ve seen with the best balance of flexibility and ease of use. My photos are stored on a network mounted drive on the HP MediaSmart home server.
  • Asset UPnP: Asset UPnP is the most flexible audio DLNA server I’ve found. You can configure the junk out of it to make sure it transcodes audio into the most compatible formats for devices, and you can even get your iTunes playlists in there. I run Asset UPnP on the HP MediaSmart server.
  • Plex: I switched from XBMC/Kodi to Plex for serving video, and I’ve also got Plex serving up my photos. The beauty of Plex is that it has a client on darn near every platform; it has a beautiful front end menu system; and it’s really flexible so you can have it, say, transcode different videos into formats the clients require (if you’re using the Plex client). Plex is a DLNA server, so if you have a client like the Playstation 3 that can play videos over DLNA, you don’t even need a special client. Plex can allow you to stream content outside your local network so I can get to my movies from anywhere, like my own personal Netflix. Plex is running on the Synology DS1010+ for the server; and I have the Plex client on my iPad, Surface RT, home theater PC, Android phones, and Kindle Fire.
  • Handbrake: Handbrake is great for taking DVD rips and converting to MP4 format. (See below for why I am using MP4.) I blogged my settings for what I use when converting movies.
  • DVDFab HD Decrypter: I’ve been using DVDFab for ripping DVDs to VIDEO_TS images in the past. It works really well for that. These rips easily feed into Handbrake for getting MP4s.
  • MakeMKV: Recently I’ve been doing some rips from DVD using MakeMKV. I’ve found sometimes there are odd lip sync issues when ripping with DVDFab that don’t show up with MakeMKV. (And vice versa - sometimes ripping with MakeMKV shows some odd sync issues that you don’t see with DVDFab.) When I get to ripping Blu-ray discs, MakeMKV will probably be my go-to.
  • DVD Profiler: I use this for tracking my movie collection. I like the interface and the well-curated metadata it provides. I also like the free online collection interface - it helps a lot while I’m at the store browsing for new stuff to make sure I don’t get any duplicates. Also helpful for insurance purposes.
  • Music Collector: I use this for tracking my music collection. The feature set is nice, though the metadata isn’t quite as clean. Again, big help when looking at new stuff to make sure I don’t get duplicates as well as for insurance purposes.
  • CrashPlan: I back up my music and photo collection using CrashPlan. I don’t have my movies backed up because I figured I can always re-rip from the original media… but with CrashPlan it’s unlimited data, so I could back it up if I wanted. CrashPlan runs on my MediaSmart home server right now; if I moved everything to Plex, I might switch CrashPlan to run on the DS1010+ instead.

Media Formats and Protocols

  • DLNA: I’ve been a fan from the start of DLNA, but the clients and servers just weren’t quite there when I started out. This seems to be much less problematic nowadays. The PS3 handles DLNA really well and I even have a DLNA client on my Android phone so I can easily stream music. This is super helpful in getting compatibility out there.
  • Videos are MP4: I started out with full DVD rips for video, but as I’ve moved to Plex I’ve switched to MP4. While it can be argued that MKV is a more flexible container, MP4 is far more compatible with my devices. The video codec I use is x264. For audio, I put the first track as a 256kbps AAC track (for compatibility) and make the second track the original AC3 (or whatever) for the home theater benefit. I blogged my settings info.
  • Audio is MP3, AAC, and Apple Lossless: I like MP3 and get them from Amazon on occasion, but I am still not totally convinced that 256kbps MP3 is the way and the light. I still get a little scared that there’ll be some better format at some point and if I bought the MP3 directly I won’t be able to switch readily. I still buy CDs and I rip those into Apple Lossless format. (Asset UPnP will transcode Apple Lossless for devices that need the transcoding; or I can plug the iPod/iPad in and play the lossless directly from there.) And I have a few AAC files, but not too many.

Media Organization

Videos are organized using the Plex recommendations: I have a share on the Synology DS1010+ called “video” and in there I have “Movies,” “TV,” and “Home Movies” folders. I have Plex associating the appropriate data scrapers for each folder.

    /Home Movies
            /20140210 Concert 01.mp4
            /20140210 Concert 02.mp4
        /Avatar (2009).mp4
        /Batman Begins (2014).mp4
            /Season 01

You can read about the Plex media naming recommendations here:

Audio is kept auto-organized in iTunes: I just checked the box in iTunes to keep media automatically organized and left it at that. The media itself is on a mapped network drive on the HP MediaSmart server and that works reasonably enough, though at times the iTunes UI hangs as it transfers data over the network.

Photos are organized in folders by year and major event: I’ve not found a good auto-organization method that isn’t just “a giant folder that dumps randomly named pictures into folders by year.” I want it a little more organized than that, though it means manual work on my part. If I have a large number of photos corresponding to an event, I put those in a separate folder. For “one-off photos” I keep a separate monthly folder. Files generally have the date and time in YYYYMMDD_HHMMSS format so it’s sortable.

        /20140101 Random Pictures
            /20140104_142345 Lunch at McMenamins.jpg
            /20140117_093542 Traffic Jam.jpg
        /20140307 Birthday Party

Picasa works well with this sort of folder structure and it appears nicely in DLNA clients when they browse the photos by folder via Plex.


My main router is a Netgear WNDR3700v2 and I love it. I’ve been through a few routers and wireless access points in the past but this thing has been solid and flexible enough with the out-of-the-box firmware such that I don’t have to tweak with it to get things working. It just works.

I have wired network downstairs between the office/servers and the main TV/PS3/Xbox 360/HTPC. This works well and is pretty much zero maintenance. I have two D-Link switches (one in the office, one in the TV room) to reach all the devices. (Here’s the updated version of the ones I use.)

The router provides simultaneous dual-band 2.4GHz and 5GHz wireless-N through the house which covers almost everywhere except a few corners. I’ve just recently added some Netgear powerline adapters to start getting wired networking upstairs into places where the wireless won’t reach.

The Road Ahead

This setup works pretty well so far. I’m really enjoying the accessibility of my media collection and I find I’m using it even more often than I previously was. So where do I go next?

  • Plex on Xbox 360: The only reason I still have that home theater PC in my living room is that it’s running the Plex app and if I want a nice interface with which to browse my movies, the HTPC is kinda the way to go. Plex has just come out with an app for Xbox One and should shortly be available for Xbox 360. This will remove the last reason I have an HTPC at all.
  • Add a higher-powered Plex server: My Synology DS1010+ does a great job running Plex right now, but it can’t transcode video very well. Specifically, if I have a high-def video and I want to watch it on my phone, the server wants to transcode that to accommodate for bandwidth constraints and whatnot… but the Synology is too underpowered to handle that. I’d like to see about getting a more powerful server running as the actual Plex server - store the data on the Synology, but use a different machine to serve it up, handle transcodingI, and so forth. (That little HTPC in the living room isn’t powerful enough, so I’ll have to figure something else out.)
  • Add wireless coverage upstairs: It’s great that I can hook the Xbox upstairs to wired networking using the powerline adapters but that doesn’t work so well for, say, my phone or the Chromecast. I’d like to add some wireless coverage upstairs (maybe chain another WNDR3700 in?) so I can “roam” in my house. I think even with the powerline stuff in there, it’d be fast enough for my purposes.
  • Integrate music into Plex: I haven’t tried the Plex music facilities and I’m given to understand that not all Plex clients support music streaming. This is much lower priority for me given my current working (and awesome) Asset UPnP installation, but it’d be nice long-term to just have one primary server streaming content rather than having multiple endpoints to get different things.